vTaiwan: activism, deliberative democracy, & social change

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Council on the Uncertain Human Future. It was an extremely rich and rewarding experience, contemplating the existential implications of climate change, in the context of deep community — and I am still planning to write a full-length post about it, soon. However, I got a bit distracted temporarily, since right after the Council ended, I headed to New York to attend the Personal Democracy Forum, a gathering on “civic tech”. My colleague Jerry Michalski was keynoting there, and had asked me to be one of the table-top facilitators for the workshop following his speech. As part of that, I had the opportunity to attend the entire conference, which was truly awesome.

Toward the end of the Forum, I met someone from the g0v (“gov zero”) movement associated with vTaiwan and learned about an upcoming workshop taking place the following week. As it turned out, this was the first vTaiwan training to be held in the U.S. And so, after a brief few days at home, I headed back in to NYC for the training…

I am super glad I did so, as it was truly inspiring! There is some seriously leading-edge participatory democracy work taking place in Taiwan, that we can all be learning from…. The backstory is that, as a result of their “Sunflower movement” in 2014, some of the members of g0v (“gov zero”, their civic tech & open source community), are now part of the formal administration, where they are hosting facilitated multi-stakeholder gatherings designed to allow regular people to co-create public policy and offer much-needed leadership to government.

Apparently, the g0v folks were initially inspired by President Obama’s “We the People” online platform, yet they have taken it much, MUCH further than what was essentially window-dressing here in the U.S. In Taiwan, they are using a variety of tech tools, including a great online tool called pol.is  that is designed to reduce rather than increase polarization, while preserving a full diversity of perspectives. At the same time, all their work culminates in facilitated face-to-face gatherings, where they bring multiple stakeholders together to create much-needed public policies which are then implemented by government.

Here are two great articles describing this phenomenon: one by Liz Barry and a more recent one by Claudina Sarahe and Darshana Narayanan. I had the great pleasure of meeting all three of these women at the training, along with a whole crew of wonderful folks from vTaiwan and g0v, including their amazing new Digital Minister Audrey Tang. As I’ve been telling my friends, it’s good to know that something good is happening on the political level, somewhere in the world…

When I posted a version of this update on the NCDD website, my friend and colleague Nancy Glock-Gruenich, a brilliant futurist, systems thinker, and educator, wrote in with some additional links. She wrote:

“Here are some more great resources on g0v.tw

  1. A 13-minute talk by Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Minister of Participation and founding leader of this movement. I’ve also added here a link to a transcript of this talk.
  1. A second 20-minute talk, same title, but different talk with further insights worth seeing.
  1. A wonderfully written account in English by the authors of this movement describing their first two years (2012-2014)

About the last link, Nancy wrote: “It has profound insights into their motivations for anticipating and developing this new approach to democracy and the software to support it. […] The wise use of this software to “amplify” the events inside the Taipai Parliamentary building–with 3-400 occupiers, together with the use of professional D&D facilitation throughout, transformed the Sunflower revolution from but one more “occupy” into as, Tang puts it, a true “demonstration” of the effectiveness of deliberative dialogue to govern […] A revolution not only in substance but in process […] the “radical” result not only a change in government and in how it is done, but a change in how “revolution” itself becomes “forked” open-source development, resulting in on-going, continuously evolving, new social design, in the end converging rather than overcoming.”

So, that was Nancy’s post… and in the meantime, I had continued compiling a whole other set of links, which I’ll enclose below. But first — I want to underline, if it’s not already obvious, what an amazing example vTaiwan is, of the synergy that is possible between activism and facilitation.

I have been writing about this topic for some time now… often on this blog, starting with a post on  The Listening Arts and Social Change back in 2011. More recently, I was inspired by Steph Roy McCallum, a public participation professional who hosts “brave honest conversations”. In her article on Medium, Steph wrote about  the need to redefine success, when our new normal is “outrage, opposition, and polarization”.  She calls on us to stop defining success as the absence of conflict, and instead redefine it “as the presence of emotion, concern, outrage and conflict and our ability to really hold the space for those brave, honest conversations that need to happen.” It’s a brilliant article, and I resonate with much of what she writes.

In response, I wrote a long comment which includes a series of useful resources for those interested in exploring the synergies between activism and social change. And now,  vTaiwan is taking that conversation to a whole other level!

Ok, that’s it for now… here is the last batch of links on vTaiwan, in case you become as fascinated by this as I have (and as my friend and mentor Tom Atlee did… 🙂  )

i)  This Wired article includes a lot about the Sunflower movement that led up to vTaiwan…

ii) The LA Times did a good story…

iii)  The Irish Times wrote a brief yet clear article..

iv)  Here is a good short article that focuses on the Uber case:

and then there are some really interesting articles on Medium written by Audrey herself:

v) one on social enterprise in Taiwan

vi) and another on virtual reality as a medium for civic deliberation.

Lest this last topic seem way too techie, I will end here by quoting the poem/prayer that Audrey wrote, which she includes at the end of that article:

“When we see “internet of things”, let’s make it an internet of beings.
When we see “virtual reality”, let’s make it a shared reality.
When we see “machine learning”, let’s make it collaborative learning.
When we see “user experience”, let’s make it about human experience.
When we hear “the singularity is near”, let us remember: the Plurality is here.”

–Audrey Tang

here’s to all of our prayers, for a world that works for all… please share with others who may be interested.

with much love,



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